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Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


Jews and Blacks in 2021


Yesterday afternoon, the semi-annual meeting of the National Council of Synagogues with the Conference of Catholic Bishops was held on-line. (We are hopeful that next fall we will once again be able to meet in person.) Given that the centennial of the Tulsa riots was this past weekend and Juneteenth is a week from Saturday, the focus was quite timely: racism. How can we bridge the gaps between communities? Is the example of the Jewish-Catholic dialogue a serviceable model?


One suggestion was offered by my colleague and classmate, Professor Bart Visotzky, who noted that he had formed an inter-faith Bible study group along with a Harlem pastor, and that others in urban settings had done likewise. I, however, pointed out that to a large extent in suburbia we are racially segregated. It is much harder to reach out to minority communities because they are not in our midst. For example, here in Smithtown African Americans are all of 1.3% of the school population. (Asians are 3.1%).


The question for Jews is where do we belong? Are we “White” or are we also a persecuted minority? Doesn’t anti-Semitism count as a form of oppression and persecution? For students on college campuses these are critical questions. Many Jewish students wish to join in anti-racism efforts and yet find that these demonstrations often incorporate anti-Israeli rhetoric which often bleed into Anti-Semitism.  The students find themselves on the outside looking in. Meanwhile, most of us are of an age that we recall with pride the involvement of Jews in the Civil Rights era and point to the picture of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel walking together with Dr. King as a symbol of the Black-Jewish alliance of that era. But are we resting on our laurels?


Where do we go from here in an era in which oppression is seemingly determinative of one’s status? Jews are deemed to be success stories and therefore outside of the camp of the oppressed—anti-Semitism doesn’t seem to count—and we are excluded from the universe of Blacks, Native Americans, the LGBTQ community, and women.


Moreover, whereas Catholics are ethnically diverse, it is much less so with the Jewish community. (Though many parishes, because of demographic shifts, are not racially mixed.) Though there are a growing number of Jews of color, that population includes a fair number of Asians and Hispanics. Our ability to reach out to people who straddle both the Jewish community and particularly the African-American community is limited. (A notable exception is Yolanda Savage-Narva, the director of the Union of Reform Judaism’s department of racial equity, diversity, and inclusion.)


In the tractate of Sanhedrin (38a) Rabbi Meir declared that the dust that formed Adam was gathered from the entire world. It is well to remember this assertion; that despite our superficial differences we bear within us the same essential DNA that makes us human.


Shabbat shalom.


Here are the links for this Shabbat:

Friday night at 8 p.m. Join Zoom Meeting

Saturday at 11 a.m. Join Zoom Meeting






Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel


Bloodless Bloodwork


Most of us dread having blood taken for lab work. There was one time that they took over a dozen vials. Oy. And so the operative question: Is there a less intrusive and less painful way of doing blood work? And the answer is yes.


A team at Sheba Medical Center has developed an innovative way of performing blood tests. As Harel Baris, one of the doctors behind the new technology, said this opens “the possibility of needle-less blood tests.”


Last year, Purdue University announced that it was developing an app to assess anemia by taking a photo of the eyelid. The Israeli team has refined the device. As Dr. Baris noted: “Our technology is built on the fact that there are blood vessels in the eye that are transparent, meaning that we can analyze them using light waves. We then gather information that usually needs lab analysis of actual samples.”  


Current plans call for it being sent up to the space station in October with Israeli space tourist Eytan Stibbe. While up in space, Stibbe will run experiments and technologies for a number of Israeli organizations, along with testing the Sheba Medical center’s device. One of the concerns is whether the device will operate successfully in microgravity. Furthermore, the space test will also assess the device’s suitability for astronauts, who currently need to give blood samples for analysis.


One more advantage of the device: it will deliver an accurate reading of oxygen saturation levels. Currently they are taken by oximeters at the end of a finger, but recently the FDA has raised concerns about the lack accuracy for those with dark skin pigmentation. Given that the sensor analyzes blood in the eye, the color-bias of the current technology will not be a problem.






Payrush LaParshahah: A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The portion of Korach (Numbers 16:20-17:24) is read this Saturday, June 12th.


16:25 The Lord spoke to Moses saying, (24) “Speak to the community and say: Withdraw from about the abodes [Mishkan] of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.” (25) Moses rose and went to Dathan and Abiram, the elders of Israel following him.


Yahweh purposes to turn his wrath on the whole congregation (cf. 14:12). He instructs Moses to tell the congregation to get away from around the tent of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram… Many English translations mask the difficulty here by translating Heb. mishkan (sing.) by the pl. “tents” or the collective “dwelling.” Korah, Dathan, and Abiram did not live in one “tent” (see 16:27), though both the Kohahtites and Reubenites lived near one another on the south side of the tabernacle. The word mishkan cannot bear the meaning “vicinity,” which it must in order to hold that all three lived in one mishkan. In fact, this word in the sing. Is never used of a human habitation, with the possible exception of Isa. 22:16, where it parallels the word grave. The sing. Is reserved for Yahweh’s “dwelling,” especially the tabernacle or the temple.


… Some scholars have offered several solutions to these difficulties. (1) Some take the word mishkan to mean “tabernacle,” and posit that Korah, Dathan, and Abiram had set up their own rival shrine. While not impossible, this option is less likely because such a blatant sin would surely have been made clearer in a text that has as one of its main purposes to detail the sins of these rebels. (2) Others go a step further than the LXX [Septuagint—classic Greek translation--which eliminates Dathan and Abiram from verse 24] and eliminate all three names from the text as a later addition. The reason for such an addition would be the editorial wish to make the two rebellions appear together as one. The reading of the text is then: “tell the congregation to move away from around the tabernacle.” This emendation makes some sense out of a difficult case here, but makes the excision of 27a [“So they withdrew from about the abodes {mishkan} of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram”] all but necessary. (3) Still others posit that mishkan here simply means “dwelling,” and assumes that Korah, after he had summoned the congregation of Israel to the tent of meeting, withdrew to the tent of Dathan and Abiram. This option proposes a unique meaning for the sing. mishkan and also hypothesizes what Korah must have, or might have, done. The text is silent on the matter.

The first option is the least likely for the reason set forth above. The second option is attractive because it makes some sense out of a seemingly confused and conflated text, but does not nothing to explain how the editor of the text wanted that text to be understood…. The third option, although it has considerable problems, not the least of which is of living with a certain ambiguity in the text, may be the best of this list. By identifying Korah with Dathan and Abiram, the text unifies the two rebellions into one, and also makes a transition back to the story of Dathan and Abiram in vv. 25-34. (Timothy R. Ashley, The New International commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Numbers. Dr. Ashley was born into an American Baptist minister’s family, the only son among five children. He received his B.A. in English Literature from Sioux Falls College--now the University of Sioux Falls. He earned a M.A, in Hebrew and Old Testament from American Baptist Seminary of the West in Covina, California. He received his Ph.D. in Hebrew and Old Testament from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. After returning to the States, he taught for a year at what was then called North American Baptist Seminary in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He then served several Baptist congregations before moving to Nova Scotia in 1982 where he joined the Faculty of Theology of Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, which is also known as Acadia Divinity College. At Acadia Dr. Ashley taught Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Old Testament, and Biblical Preaching. He was also active in the affairs of the United Baptist Convention of the Atlantic Provinces. In 2003 he returned to the States to serve as the minister of First Baptist Church of La Crosse, Wisconsin. In 2005 he became the founding Director of the Central Baptist Theological Seminary’s branch in Wisconsin. In addition to his role as Director, Dr. Ashley taught Hebrew Bible and Exegesis and Hermeneutics courses. He retired from CBTS in 2016. He retired from the pulpit in 2019. Dr. Ashley has co-written with his wife, the Reverend Maxine Ashley, several sets of Sunday School Curriculum for Judson Press—the most recent of which appeared in fall, 2004. In addition to this commentary on Numbers, which was first printed in 1993, he co-edited a book of essays, You Shall Be My Witnesses, which was published in 2003. Currently, he is working on a revised edition of his commentary on Numbers.)






Questions for Korach 5781 (Numbers 16:20-17:24)


  1. Why do Moses and Aaron fall on their faces? When else do they fall on their faces?
  2. Moses and Aaron challenge God by declaring in 16:22, “When one man sins, will You be wrathful with the whole congregation?” Are they only referring to Korach?
  3. The Hebrew word translated as “abodes” in 16:24 is the word Mishkan. There are two problems. A. It is a singular noun, not a plural—Korach was not rooming with Dathan and Abiram-- and B. The noun usually refers to the portable sanctuary. Explain.
  4. In confronting Dathan and Abiram how does Moses argue that God is on his side?
  5. What is Sheol?
  6. Who was swallowed by the earth and who perished because of the divine fire?
  7. If their households and all of Korach’s people were swallowed up, how is that later on (Numbers 26:11) it says that the sons of Korach did not perish? Where else are there references to the sons of Korach?
  8. Why were the copper fire pans considered holy? The text says that the used copper fire pans were re-fashioned into a covering for the altar, but Exodus 38:2 says Bezalel made such a covering. Explain.
  9. God’s command to Moses and Aaron in 17:10 is similar to what passage in the previous chapter?
  10. Why did God inflict a plague upon the people? What did they do that was sinful?
  11. What is the nature of the staff demonstration?
  12. What was supernatural about what happened to Aaron’s staff?


Questions for the Haftorah (I Samuel 11:14-12:22)


  1. Why was Gilgal the place for Saul’s installation?
  2. Why does Samuel proclaim that he hadn’t benefited from his role as prophet? Was he paraphrasing Moses’s statement in Numbers 16:15?
  3. What is missing from Samuel’s recounting of Israelite history? Who is missing from his enumeration of judges? Who was “Bedan?”
  4. Why did Samuel invoke God to ruin the wheat crop? What was so sinful about asking for a king? Doesn’t Deuteronomy make provisions for a king?
  5. What assurances for Israel’s future does Samuel finally offer?


Sun, June 13 2021 3 Tammuz 5781